Managing on current income

Many of the participants in the study are struggling with everyday costs of gas, electricity and food.

Due to his disabilities, Mary’s son spends a lot of time in the house and she says he finds it cold. She encourages him to wrap himself up in his bed covers when in the house to save money on heating. When her son is not in the house Mary does not use the heating, covering herself in blankets instead. Mary said:

‘Financially I do struggle… filling the fridge, heating the house… With my money each week I put £10 gas in and £10 electric and I really have to spin that out. I really have to spin it out. We only put the gas on if it’s absolutely freezing and I have in the past said to (her son) look, just put on a pair of furry socks and put your goonie (dressing gown) on because we can’t afford it. It’s really hard times just now, but I’m just getting on with it… I’d never forgive myself if it ran out, because I cannae do what I used to do when he was wee and say “right come on, we’ll sleep in the tent the night and get all the covers out”, you cannae do that with a 17 year old now’.

Young mum, Rebecca, aged 20, struggles to meet the everyday needs of her and her baby. She explains:

‘Sometimes I have actually had to sit and choose between electricity and feeding myself. If the (electricity) meter runs out I can’t get into emergency… because the previous tenants run up a huge debt and now they won’t give any allowance (leeway). So I’ve run out of electricity at 12:30 at night and the emergency number you phone puts you through to the police station, and the police officer told me you don’t need electricity for a baby. They said, “what does your baby need? Put extra blankets on it“. They were really really horrible about it. I was really horrible back, I’m not going to lie, I was furious...So sometimes I do have to choose between feeding me and heating the house. I really have to budget’.

On the day that I speak to Janice she is struggling financially. It is a Friday and she last received money the Monday of the previous week and will next receive money after the weekend. This is the point that is really difficult for her in the fortnightly payment cycle. she says: ‘by the time I’ve paid the bills, I’ve maybe got like £40 £50 to do me for the food for the two weeks’.

Janice looks after her three grandchildren every week and the cost of feeding them has an impact on her financial situation. She says:

‘Well I feed them every Saturday. I don’t begrudge it, but you think “God, that bread - I could have done with that…” And I don’t like to say to her (daughter) “oh bring something”. Like, she’s coming to stay on Saturday night with her three kids and I thought “can you bring something for your tea?”, But you can’t (say that), because you’re the mum, you know, and then it’s you that’s doing without’.

Jennifer, who has three boys, split up from her husband five years ago. Although he usually takes the children for weekends, especially now that she works on a Sunday, it comes at a cost for Jennifer as he is not working. Sometimes, for example, he says he can’t take them because he doesn’t have enough food to feed them dinner. On such occasions Jennifer takes up a bag of shopping to enable him to feed the children so that she can go to work.

‘I was dropping them off and I said could you be able to have them until six on Sunday. And he said, “I dinnae ken because I’ve no really got stuff in for their tea” so he had them for the weekend and then I, the Sunday morning before I went into work, I went up to his house and drop stuff in for their tea. Just wee things like that, that could help me, he doesn’t help with. And he doesn’t pay anything obviously because he’s not working’.

Jennifer explains that sometimes her ex-husband cannot afford the food to feed his three sons when it is his weekend to have them and that this has consequences for Jennifer if she also doesn’t have enough money and has to ask her family: ‘there’s times he springs it on me, on a Thursday night saying, 'you’ll need to give me food up for them this weekend'. And I might not have the money and I have to say to my mum “could you give me £20 and I’ll give you it back on Monday”, and it’s like “oh Jennifer, not again”. Then when Monday comes I’m owing my mum money from then. Or she’ll say things like “I’ll give you it but don’t tell your dad because he’ll really stress out”, and that is just more stress for me’.

Even for those in the study who are working, the price of everyday living is a struggle. Debbie feels that her family are just managing on their current income. She says they are looking at what they're spending and, although she didn't have lots of money before, she didn't have to worry about what food shop to buy or what types of food to buy next. She says that she is now having to consider what food to buy and this has made a difference to their lives.

Jamie, father of six and working full-time, when asked how he was coping on his current income, says, ‘it's tough, it is, it's tough’. ‘It's tougher than it has been previously. You're trying to make less money stretch further’. Jamie explains that he is just able to cover the essential costs for his family:

‘I can just cover that (essentials) and it leaves me with very little to do anything else apart from live. Like by the time I've paid council tax, rent, gas, electricity, get the shop in (food), bus fares, school dinners and things like that, there's very little, play money, I suppose you'd call it’.

For Pauline the needs and essentials of her and her children often go unmet. She says:

‘There’s been quite a few times towards the end of the month that I’ve had to borrow money off my mother in order to get the petrol to get to work. Wednesdays, the day before tax credit days, we really are sort of pulling the scraps together to eat. Basically (her teenage son) he’s 18 and six feet two and he eats like a horse, so yeah, it’s been hand to mouth, it’s been completely hand to mouth. There hasn’t been any new clothes bought… we’ve been improvising’.

Student lone-parent Sarah says: ‘I run on overdraft. All the time… I live on a fiscal knife-edge and as soon as there’s anything out of kilter it all just falls apart’.

Lone-parent Liam says: 'Struggling. I'm struggling. If it wasn't for my mum and dad, if it wasn't for their help, I would be really struggling...’

Increase in food worries

One of the main areas in 2015 that people find themselves struggling with is in relation food costs and being able to feed their families. Oftentimes parents forego food themselves in order to better feed their children. Parents report having to compromise on food quality and nutrition.

When talking about expenditure many respondents volunteered that they had noticed an increase in food costs and so were cutting back on food as they were finding it so expensive. They had also changed their shopping habits, often after many years of shopping at a particular supermarket.

Janice explains that they eat fresh food for the first three days and in the last few days are relying on three loaves of frozen bread in the freezer. As she explains:

‘You can't buy healthy food. I mean I'd love to have fruit and veg every day... and chicken, instead of junk and junk and junk. Like I say, you get five packets of biscuits for £1, what you pay for a melon. So it's just easier but it’s not good for your health’.

Liam does his shopping on a weekly basis and spends approximately £50-£60 per week on food shopping. He feels that this amount is rising and he is struggling to cover food costs. He says:

‘I’ve seen a difference in terms of food shopping and what we're buying food-wise, electricity as well... I'm always having to rob Peter to pay Paul. That's how I feel. I mean the cost of food has gone up. I've always been a bit thrifty and I get the own brand stuff but you notice that is rising and it’s pricey’.

Even working families are noticing the increasing demands of buying food. Jamie says:

‘I notice the difference in the cost of food and things like that. You have to be thankful for Lidl and Aldi’s and places like that for being so cheap and competitive and we still get decent quality food. Your Tescos, and places like that, it's expensive, especially for a family my size. It's a lot. I think the vast majority of my wages goes on food.’

Debbie reports that she and her husband, who are both working, have made changes to their shopping habits:

‘I would go to Asda every week, buy whatever I fancied… I’ve started shopping at Lidl, which is much cheaper, and actually I’m surprised by how great quality the stuff is, so we’re really happy with that. And that has massively cut down on our supermarket spend. Then, we found local butchers that do really good deals so we actually feel we’re saving money but we are actually getting better value for it’.

Anne says she manages to save money by going to discount supermarkets now instead of the large supermarkets:

‘Just shopping in Aldi’s helped. It really has dramatically helped… But January we were really really struggling, so I thought, do you know what? We’ll go to Aldi, we’ll give it a bash. And d’you know for a whole week’s message (shopping) was like 55 quid… That really has helped. That has basically halved our weekly shop’.

Even though she is now working, Jennifer still feel she lives on a day-to-day basis financially. One of the things she struggles with is the cost of food. She explains that:

‘Things that would take so much pressure off of me is if I knew, and I know it sounds really daft, but see if I had a big food shop every single week that would make me feel so much better. Because I would know whatever I’ve got (money) is for other stuff… Because that’s my main thing that bugs me, is having to juggle things, and borrow from Peter to pay Paul... I’m just scrimping… … My kids never ever do without, they’ll never be hungry, I don’t ever ever want that, but I can’t ever do anything comfortably, which I really would like to. I’d love to go into ASDA and put everything on the trolley that I want to buy and just pay for it, without saying, “do I really need it?” and putting it back’.

When asked what else would take the pressure off her financially, other than a big weekly shop, Jennifer says:

‘Free school meals would be great because I wouldn’t need to think about that and worry about that’. Jennifer pays for the boys school meals on a daily basis and says, ‘there’s still days when I say, maybe on a Friday, I often say to (her middle son), “I’ve not got any change”, this sounds terrible, “I’ve not got any change. Just say to the teacher that I’ll pay two on Monday” and he’ll say “yeah that’s fine”. He thinks it’s normal because I do it all the time. The teachers probably know I do it all the time but that means on Monday - I get money on a Monday morning - I can go into the office and say “(my son) never took his dinner money on Friday”, it’s because it saves me money’.

After paying £10 on gas and electricity each week, Mary says she has £40 left over and that’s what she uses to buy food for her son and herself. She says: ‘(my son) is always telling me that there is no food in the house, which there really isn’t’. Mary explains that her mum cooks for her and her son to help them out: ‘I try and eat what I can at my mum’s, ken what I mean? So I’m fuelled up for coming home’. Her son still says: ‘”Mum, can we not get some decent food in the house?” I try my best with what I get’.

Mary sacrifices her own nutrition for that of her son. She says her own diet is completely unbalanced due to her prioritising good food for her son. When asked was her son aware of their financial situation, Mary said: ‘No, he would set into panic to think that he’s eating and I’m no. See like last week? I couldn’t even afford shampoo. It was absolutely crazy. I’ve never been on my backside like that in my life... It’s a scary predicament to be in’.

Rebecca, a 20 year old lone-parent, says: ‘Sometimes I have actually had to sit and choose between electricity and feeding myself’.

TV Licence

In addition to struggling with everyday costs and the price of food, Mary is struggling to pay certain of her bills. This year, she has not been able to pay her television licence and has had an extremely bad experience as a consequence:

‘My TV licence. I got a fine for that. I couldn’t pay it. That bothered me, I could actually cry about that because I was, I was on my arse, and see when you phone TV licence, they’ve not got the time of day for you… I tried so hard but they wanted me to pay £10 a week off my £60 a week. I explained to them what had happened, and I says “that’s why I’m getting into debt with this”. I had been trying to pay it weekly and I missed four weeks when I first found out my mum had cancer. It was just everything went out the window, so I got to the point and I was due them, like, £8 or something, then the next week I was due them £30, and I never had £30 to give them. So, they were on the phone to me, “could you pay this, could you pay that” and I said “I cannae. I’ve let it run too long I cannae give you £30, I cannae possibly do it”… It was just one worry after another with them. And it ended up, I never paid it for, like, three, four month, because it was just building up and building up. It was getting worse. They gave me a £85 fine and wanted me to pay £15 a week. So, they said that I could pay my fine £10 a week and pay up my remaining TV licence at £15 a week. So there was £25 a week.’

After receiving the £85 fine from the court, Mary says she felt: ‘oh my God I can’t believe this. I try so hard every week in life to do what I can and they got me like that... They said if they have to fine me again it will be a £1000 fine and I’ll be taken to court’.

According to the TV licensing man, who came into Mary’s home, you are not allowed to play computer games or listen to the radio without a television licence. Mary says:

‘So I ended up just saying to him “right I get what you’re saying, I understand, I’ve signed my thing, you can just go now. You are not degrading me anymore because I’ve just had it from the welfare fund”… ‘I was sitting with holes in my socks and holes in my knickers and I wanted to say to him “do you think I, ken, I’m sitting with holes in my knickers and my socks but I can give you £85, aye, that’s fine”… He says to me “you know we have jailed people for this?” And I thought “oh my God could you give me anymore?” So that was frightening’.

The final words go to Jennifer:

‘The people that make the decisions haven't got a clue… (they’ve) never experienced hardship in the life. They’ve never went without food. They’ve never… there's been times with my kids when I’ve went to bed and said, “see tonight, we'll light candles, and we'll get our books in bed”. And it’s because I’ve no electric, it's crazy. And when I’ve run out of gas, and there's no hot water, so we'll be boiling kettles for the bath… and you don't want to tell (eldest son), who's 12, because you don't want him thinking “oh my god my mum hasn't got any money”… I'll say “I can't get that pilot light to light, I'm going to have to phone (the housing association) in the morning”. So he thinks I have a problem with my gas but it’s because I don't have any money to put in my card, because I’ve none, so I’m having to boil kettles to give them their bath for school the next day’.